IDF prepares for ‘new’ Syria

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman surprised everyone by dropping a bomb on the Cabinet table this week. Back in 2015, then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot had agreed to Israel’s defense budget as part of a multi-year plan to cover defense costs up until 2020. Liberman now insists that he needs an urgent injection of another 4.8 billion shekels ($1.4 billion).

The official reason given for this is “new threats” in the region. The unofficial reason being discussed by critics of Israel’s defense establishment is that Israel has invested the lion’s share of its money and efforts over the last few years contending with strategic threats in a third, more distant circle, while neglecting its first circle of defense. Israel’s security doctrine is based on different strategies vis-a-vis the three circles of threats according to closer/more distant enemies.

Israel’s working assumption has been that there will be no real land-based threats along the northern border (first circle) in the foreseeable future. But that assumption is now falling apart right in front of the country’s leaders. As an earlier Al-Monitor article claimed, Israel was premature in delivering a eulogy for President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Now, Syria is back, and it is not alone. It comes with a stronger, reinvigorated, better trained and more experienced Hezbollah, and the movement is more determined than ever. It also comes with Shiite militias, which accumulated combat experience under Iranian influence and also, apparently, under Iranian command. And we haven’t even mentioned the factories to manufacture missiles with precision accuracy that Iran is trying to set up in the region or the port and land bases that it is trying to build for itself in Syria and Lebanon.

As one Israeli Cabinet member told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “We discovered that while we were all focused on the third circle, the first circle has come back to life.” The main problem is that according to quite a few sources in the Israeli defense establishment, our land forces are ill-prepared to deal with the old-new challenges piling up against it.

Liberman’s demand is based on a clause in the multi-year plan for defense funding: “This agreement will not be open to further negotiations unless there is an economic or security shift described by the relevant ministries [Finance and Defense] as major.”

According to Liberman, the changes taking place around us are major-plus. “Assad won, and he now controls about 90% of Syria’s populated territory,” Liberman said in a briefing for military correspondents on Nov. 20. “He is starting to build up new divisions and brigades, including aerial defenses. The Syrian army is training more. They are better prepared, and there are more attempts to signal to us that they are ready to face us. They have SA-22 batteries, which are very effective weaponry, but they don’t know how to use them yet.”

There are several main concerns behind the Finance Ministry’s stubborn opposition to Liberman’s demands. In the past few years, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) invested huge sums to prepare itself for the strategic threat posed by Iran. Deals such as the acquisition of F-35 stealth fighter jets consumed a large part of available resources, but they are irrelevant to the current situation. No one in Israel thought that the war in Syria would be over or even die down quickly in 2017, with a clear winner in the person of Assad, or that Assad would bring Iran, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias along with him.

The IDF is late in acquiring Namer APCs (armored personnel carriers) and equipping Israeli tanks with “Windbreaker” defenses to deflect the threat posed by 9M133 Kornet missiles. These missiles were responsible for numerous casualties in the Israeli Armored Corps during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. All in all, Israel’s attitude toward Hezbollah has undergone a significant transformation over the past two years. It once considered Hezbollah to be a guerrilla movement that could do little more than annoy Israel with massive rocket attacks on the home front. In the last two years, however, Hezbollah has become a well-trained and hostile regular army with accumulated experience in important battles in Syria. Hezbollah is now capable of operating offensively and even of capturing territory on the Israeli side of the border.

The IDF has been keeping a tense watch on Hezbollah’s Radwan commando units and on many developments in the group such as the short-range Burkan rocket — a sort of hybrid rocket with a warhead of 0.5-1 ton. In the past few years, Hezbollah also obtained unmanned aircrafts and even a small number of tanks and armored vehicles. The group is still light-years behind a real matchup with Israel’s military might, and particularly with the Israeli air force. Still, Israel’s superiority on the battlefield is no longer quite as absolute as it once was. The IDF may yet miss the days when Hezbollah fighters avoided real contact with Israeli forces, preferring guerrilla warfare from a distance as they did during the Second Lebanon War.

The second concern behind Liberman’s demand for an immediate budget increase is the fact that the nuclear deal with Iran is no longer as stable and safe as it was under former President Barak Obama. Israel is paying the price for its success in convincing President Donald Trump to challenge the agreement and gnaw away at it. Right now, this is mostly verbal, but the Israeli defense establishment is no longer convinced that the agreement will last until its scheduled expiration date. There are other scenarios, including the collapse of the agreement or having one of the parties — either Iran or the United States — rebuffing it. If that happens, the strategic Iranian threat against Israel would immediately reappear on the list of current threats. Liberman believes that Israel must prepare itself and be ready to provide a response for this scenario, too.

It can be assumed that the main motivation behind Liberman’s demand for additional funding can be found in the first reason above. Israel’s failure to prepare for the victory of Assad and the Shiite axis is contributing to a loss of self-confidence. Furthermore, Israel also failed to convince the Americans not to abandon the region and not to cede it to the mercy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jerusalem has been voicing serious disappointment now that Trump is allowing Putin to do whatever he wants in the new Syria. The warm embrace between Putin and Assad in Sochi on Nov. 21, the statement by Russia’s foreign minister that an Iranian presence in Syria is legitimate, and the clear victory of the Shiite axis, which now stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, are resulting in a chain of powerful responses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem —Israel’s defense and political echelons.

According to one of his associates who spoke on condition of anonymity, Liberman regularly jokes that “nothing good is threatening us.” As 2018 approaches, the joke is on him. His tongue-in-cheek remark is coming true right before his eyes.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

IOF breaks into al-Khalil

Breaks in al-Khalil

The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) stormed Friday a number of towns in al-Khalil, to the south of West Bank, and violently broke into local houses.

Security sources affirmed that IOF raided Yatta and Beit Umar town in addition to Aroub refugee camp.

Several houses were stormed and searched including two brothers’ houses, local activist Mohamed Awad said.

No arrests were reported during the raids.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

Israel cleansing al-Quds of Palestinian population: Rights activists

A picture taken on October 25, 2017 shows a general view of construction work in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement in East Jerusalem al-Quds. (By AFP)

A picture taken on October 25, 2017 shows a general view of construction work in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement in East Jerusalem al-Quds

Human rights activists have warned that Tel Aviv is involved in an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against the generations-long Palestinian residents of Jerusalem al-Quds in order to get rid of their demographic dominance in the Israeli-occupied city.

Citing rights groups and researchers, The Middle East eye news and analysis portal reported on Thursday that Tel Aviv was gradually moving Palestinians out of Jerusalem al-Quds’ Israeli-majority areas by annexing the city’s settlements and turning Palestinian areas into “a no man’s land.”

The regime is advancing the so-called “Greater Jerusalem” aimed at “legalizing” the annexation of the settlements, which house around 150,000 Israelis, to appropriate the land on which it has built the structures.

“The pace of physical and demographic changes in the city has accelerated dramatically since Israel began building a steel and concrete barrier through the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods more than decade ago,” the sources noted.

Aviv Tartasky, a field researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem al-Quds, described the developments in the occupied city as “ethnic cleansing, without guns.”

“Israel hopes to get rid of a third of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population through legislative moves alone,” he added.

A picture taken on October 25, 2017 shows a general view of construction work in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement in East Jerusalem al-Quds.  

Another bill will deny more than 100,000 Palestinians on the “wrong” side of the barrier rights in the city.

At the same time, it is employing harsh policies to force the Palestinians inside the wall to move out. Those include late-night arrests, home demolitions, and a denial of basic services.

Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state, while Israel lays claim to its entirety as its “eternal capital.”

Israel’s settlement construction has accelerated since the January inauguration of US President Donald Trump. He has also signaled that he would move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to al-Quds as a means of endorsing the regime’s claim to the city.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

Israeli court sentences Palestinian to 2 life-terms and 40 years

Two lif time + 40 Years

The Israeli Salem Military court, west of Jenin, sentenced on Thursday a Palestinian detainee to two life-terms and 40 years in Israeli prisons.

The Salem court issued two-life sentences and a forty-year prison-term against 43-year-old Mohamed Zakarna, from Jenin’s southern town of Qabatiya. The court also ruled that the detainee pay a bail of up to 300,000 shekels.

His family strongly condemned the verdicts, saying their son was indicted over charges for which he had already been sentenced by Israeli courts.

Prisoner Zakarna was kidnapped by the Israeli occupation forces on May 28, 2012 after he was injured and arrested in an ambush. The Israeli occupation authorities re-sentenced him over charges for which he had already been punished at an earlier time.

Sometime earlier, the occupation authorities sentenced Zakarna to life but ended up acquitting him following negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

IOF seizes Palestinian municipal truck in Aqraba town

Truck Aqraba

The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) on Thursday confiscated a Palestinian garbage truck in Aqraba town, south of Nablus city.

A local activist in the town said that Israeli soldiers appropriated a vehicle used for the collection of garbage at the pretext of its presence in an area under Israeli control.

Quds Press quoted the activist as saying that Israel bans Palestinian citizens from entering al-Duwa area, northeast of Aqraba, and claims this area belongs to a Jewish settler.

He said that the Israeli army systematically seizes Palestinian vehicles belonging to Palestinian municipal authorities in the West Bank on allegations of their presence in the Israeli-controlled Area C.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

PFLP raps PA for not ending sanctions on Gaza

PFLP raps

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has criticized the reluctance of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership to end it sanctions on the Gaza Strip, saying such attitude reflects the absence of a political will to achieve the national reconciliation.

In a press release on Thursday, senior PFLP official Iyad Awadallah said that the final statement that was issued by the participants in the Cairo national talks was “disappointing and not up to the current challenges, and did not reflect the enormity of the humanitarian suffering of the population in Gaza.”

Awadallah stressed the need for not making the national reconciliation subject to foreign and international pressures and conditions, or placing obstacles in its way, warning that the situation might get back to square one if it was not redressed quickly.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

IOF quells anti-settlement demonstrations in West Bank

Solidarity activists

A 26-year-old German solidarity activist was injured with a rubber bullet in the back in the Israeli occupation forces’ (IOF) quelling of the Bil’in weekly march to the west of Ramallah on Friday.

Eyewitnesses reported that clashes broke out between the IOF soldiers and the demonstrators during the march that was organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements.

The participants raised Palestinian flags and roamed the streets of the village chanting slogans and songs calling for achieving national unity and resisting the Israeli occupation.

Media coordinator of the Popular Committee Against Wall and Settlements, Rateb Abu Rahma, said that the anti-settlement weekly marches of Bil’in, which started 13 years ago, will never be stopped by Israel’s killing and arrest campaigns.

He affirmed that the people of Bil’in have managed, with their strong determination and steadfastness, to restore more than 1200 dunums of land that were confiscated to serve Israeli settlement projects.

Meanwhile in Qalqilya, the IOF quelled the anti-settlement weekly march of Kafr Qaddum which demanded opening the village’s road that has been closed for 14 years.

Coordinator of the Popular Resistance in Kafr Qaddum, Murad Shtewi, said that the IOF soldiers broke into the village, attacked the protesters with rubber-coated metal bullets, and set up ambushes in different locations, yet no injuries or arrests were reported.

The peaceful demonstration was launched following Friday prayer with the participation of Palestinian citizens and a number of foreign and Israeli peace activists.

(Source / 24.11.2017)

Hamas condemns deadly mosque attack in Sinai

Mosque attack

Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, on Friday strongly condemned the “criminal attack” that claimed the life of dozens of Muslim worshipers in a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

In a statement on Friday, Hamas said that attacking places of worship constitutes a flagrant violation of all humanitarian norms and a blatant disrespect for Muslims’ feelings around the world.

The Movement expressed solidarity with Egypt, extended its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wished swift recovery for the injured.

According to Egypt’s TV channels, at least 155 were killed and 120 were injured in a the mosque attack.

Egyptian media outlets said, quoting eyewitnesses, that a group of militants, after setting off a bomb near the mosque, opened fire at the worshipers who were leaving the mosque killing and injuring dozens of them.

Health directorate in North Sinai announced a state of emergency in all government hospitals.

(Source / 24.11.2017)